If you’re serious about getting stronger, quicker and maximizing your vertical jump and the power in your legs, there is one thing you should do every morning.
So you’re training hard. You’re doing your plyometrics. You’re cranking out front squats, one-legged squats and deadlifts. You’re doing planks and getups and you’ve built a solid core that can harness the power in those legs. You’re downing high-quality whey and throwing down some creatine to rebuild muscle and pack them with the quick fuels you need for explosive power. Despite all that, you plateaued a few weeks ago and weren’t seeing any gains. Then, at this week’s checkin… the horror! You lost a half an inch of vertical leap. What’s going on? Maybe you’re overtraining.
Fortunately, our bodies come equipped with an early warning system to tell us that maybe we need to get more rest and less exercise. If we’re struggling to keep up, our waking rest pulse will tend to rise. A lot of things can cause this — lack of sleep, stress and worry, training too much without enough rest. All of those are forms of stress and long-term low-level stress is bad. Among other things, it tends to increase the level of cortisol in your system. Cortisol is a hormone that promotes muscle breakdown and fat storage. If you’re trying to improve your strength to weight ratio, you don’t want a lot of cortisol floating around in your blood. So every morning, before you get out of bed or do anything except maybe snooze your alarm clock, take two minutes to check your resting pulse.
Two minutes may sound like a long time, but our heart rates are not totally consistent and you also want to be tuned in to relatively small changes in heart rate and a two-minute span gives you a highly accurate reading. A rise of two beats per minute is actually a lot when it comes to your waking rest pulse. Yesterday I was feeling really whipped and woke up and found my pulse was about 47. It’s normally 44 or 45. I had planned a weight workout, but I just couldn’t muster the will to hit the gym. By the end of the dinner I had to go to last night, I was hammered. I got to bed early, slept until I woke naturally (no alarm) and lo and behold, when I took my pulse this morning it was down to 44 again.
Now, if I were a pro athlete with nothing but time, I could have solved my problem yesterday by taking a nap, catching up on my rest and then doing an upper body workout (my legs were just flat out sore). But I’m not, so I threw in an extra rest day. No harm done — I had gotten some form of exercise four days in a row. But it’s key to pay attention to the signs and know when a little extra rest is in order.
Some signs that you might be overtraining or possibly getting sick:
- Waking rest pulse rises by more than two beats (for me even two beats is significant — doesn’t happen unless something is going wrong).
- You fall asleep while taking your waking rest pulse! If you can’t stay away, you’re not getting enough sleep.
- Drowsiness in mid-morning. It’s normal for humans to get drowsy in the afternoons. That’s why many human cultures take siestas, but you should be alert in mid-morning.
- You would be drowsy in the morning, but you dose with caffeine to stave off the drowsiness. That’s a whole long topic, but caffeine should not be used to keep you awake. It can be used to enhance endurance in some high-performance sports situations, but if you’re using it to keep yourself awake and alert or to stay up later than you should, you are harming your long-term sports performance.
So if you want to jump higher… start with monitoring your waking rest pulse!